January 24, 2008

No. 15 Rebels heading to Mississippi State

There's no question that Eniel Polynice is best near the rim. When the Rebel offense is clicking, it's largely because Polynice is attacking the goal.

But when No. 15 Ole Miss heads to Starkville to face Mississippi State Saturday at 4, there's going to 6-foot-8 shot-blocking machine, ready to send Ole Miss and Polynice home with a loss.

But instead of scheming for Jarvis Varnado, the nation's top shot blocker, Ole Miss is going to do what it does best - go at the basket.

"I'm just going to keep on attacking," Polynice said. "Hopefully, we'll try to foul him out.

"If I was tentative worrying about who's at the basket, it'd change my whole game. If he comes at me, I can pitch it to an open big man for a wide-open layup."

Varnado's changed his share of games this season, averaging 5.2 blocks per game. In SEC games against Georgia and Kentucky, he blocked 10 shots in each game.

"He's a tremendous shot blocker, and I think we can devise a plan to limit some of the things he's effective doing. But, I'm not sure that's in the best interest for our team. Our team's one that likes to attack off the bounce," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We're very dependent on getting to ball to (Dwayne Curtis) in an area he can score - close to the basket.

"We need to be aware of him; we need to make sure our kids are aware of him. But, we need to play the way where we feel we can be successful."

Largely due to their defense, Mississippi State (13-5, 4-0) is off to a great start in the SEC West. Mississippi State leads the conference by holding opponents to 35.9 percent shooting and 60.9 points per game.

But against Ole Miss, Mississippi State, winners of eight straight, will face the top scoring offense in the league.

Polynice said he's up for the challenge of covering Jamont Gordon - the SEC's sixth-leading scorer. But, he plans on making Gordon work too.

"He just plays extremely hard. He comes right at the basket and tries to get everyone involved. I'm just going to pay him honest, straight up," Polynice said. "He's real aggressive off the bounce. He's one of the 10 best players in the league. I just have to play him honest and don't give him any angles.

"Hopefully, I'll make him play me too."

The game comes at the right time, with Ole Miss looking for momentum.

Curtis said the Rebels (15-2, 2-2) need to make a move within their division after losing at Auburn last weekend, and Saturday, they have a chance to stop the Bulldogs' momentum.

"We've just been getting our mind back," Curtis said. "They got a head start; we're going to try to slow them down."

Curtis is battling a strained right arch, and Jermey Parnell, is questionable with a high ankle sprain, leaving the Rebel frontline a little thin.

Kennedy said the Rebels have used the week off to rest his ailing big men - particularly Curtis, who's been able to practice in a limited role.

"We're trying to be cautious. He strained his arch, and we don't want to do anything where it becomes something he'll after deal with for the remainder of the season," Kennedy said. "Hopefully, it's not something that'll keep him from being effective."

Curtis, who was on crutches prior to the loss at Auburn, said the injury's not going to limit him.

"It's just a little soreness from last game because my orthodics were moving in my shoes," Curtis said. "I tried changing shoes and that was a bad idea too. (The time off) given me some time to get treatment and rehab it. I'm feeling better now."

And against Varnado, Curtis will have to use all of his size and ability to his advantage.

"I'm going to use my size and bulkiness," Curtis said. "I'll put weight on him and try to get him off balance. I try to use my body to create some space."

And if the Rebels can get to the rim, Polynice said, he thinks Ole Miss can pick up a win, and that's a big deal. Ole Miss has not won at Starkville since 1998.

And while the rivalry against in-state Mississippi Sate may mean a lot to some people, to Polynice, the Bulldogs are just another team - and potentially another notch on the Rebels' belt.

"It doesn't mean anything to us. It's just another game that we're trying to win," Polynice said. "The fans might see it as a rivalry, but we just see it s another chance to win. Basically, we're trying to make history.

"We're not worried about the fans or the rivalry; we're just trying to win."

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